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What are the different filing techniques?

History of Filing

At first glance, it might seem that using a file is as simple as just picking it up and rubbing it against the surface of the material you want to shape, smooth or sharpen.

 

While this will work to a degree, there is much more to mastering filing than that. In fact, the file used to be used by master craftsmen to test the skill of their apprentices many years ago.

The apprentice would be given two pieces of similarly treated metal, each with lines marked on them. 

 

Their test would be filing the pieces of metal down to the marked lines so accurately and smoothly that they would fit together perfectly.

Filing Techniques

There are three different techniques that should enable you to make the most of working with a file. Guides on how to perform each of them follow this page.

 

Additionally, there are some general tips that apply to all three of the techniques that are included on this page.

Technique 1: Cross Filing

Also called straightforward filing, this technique involves pushing the file across the edge of the material. It can be used for finishing, shaping or sharpening.

 

This is the most commonly used filing technique. It’s easy as pie to do, but difficult to master completely.

 

For a step by step guide, see: What is cross filing?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cross-Filing

Advantages and Disadvantages
Advantages

An adaptable technique, useful for smoothing, finishing, sharpening and deburring

 

Can be used with any type of file

 

Can be used on small components

Disadvantages

Difficult to master and can result in an undesirable sloped surface on thicker workpieces

Technique 2: Draw Filing

This technique is a little more unusual and involves holding a file at each end and using it in a similar way to sandpaper.

This technique is only used for finishing, and only with single-cut files.

 

For a step by step guide, see: What is draw filing?

This is because the long, uninterrupted teeth of a single cut file act like a series of knives that shear material away from the surface of the workpiece with each stroke.

 

Double cut and millenicut teeth are much shorter and would be more prone to digging channels in the material, which makes them unsuitable for draw filing. Other types of cut are the wrong shape to be used in both directions, which also rules them out.

 

For more information on types of file teeth, see: What is a file’s cut?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Draw Filing

Advantages and Disadvantages
Advantages

Very effective at creating a smooth surface

Disadvantages

Only works with single-cut files

 

Cannot be used in tight spaces

Technique 3: Lathe Filing

Lathe filing is used to smooth and shape cylindrical pieces of material, such as wooden chair legs. 

 

This is a tricky technique that involves mounting your workpiece in a lathe, which will rotate it when activated. The lathe must be spun faster than usual to ensure maximum filing consistency. The lathe filing technique is otherwise similar to cross filing.

 

For more information, see: What is lathe filing?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Lathe Filing

Advantages and Disadvantages
Advantages

The only way to file a cylindrical workpiece with any consistency

 

Allows for rapid shaping of material

 

Can be used for finishing, shaping and deburring

Disadvantages

Requires a lathe

 

Mistakes cause irregularities in an otherwise symmetrical pattern

 

Requires a file with safe edges if you are working close to edges of the workpiece to prevent damage to lathe and file

 

It’s difficult to be accurate

General Filing Tips

If you are finishing the workpiece, try not to wobble the file up and down during the stroke. This will help to avoid creating a sloped or convex surface.

 

To stop this from happening, keep your body still, moving your arms from the shoulder.

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